Free Markets, Free People

Socialism In America

Perhaps the time has come to be perfectly frank. We Americans live in a socialist country. In point of fact, we have for quite some time, even though private property has a long, continuing and still revered position in our society. To be sure, we aren’t an entirely socialist country, but instead a mixed one that teeters between the two extremes of collectivism and freedom (i.e. socialism and capitalism). In the past century or so, however, the scale tipped noticeably toward the socialism side, and we are now at the point where capitalism is not the dominant force. Of course, there are many who will disagree with my assessment.

Conor Clarke, for example, offers the following to dispel notions that we have become a socialist country:

Government vs. Private Ownership

Government vs. Private Ownership

Conor explains:

Have you heard that the United States is headed toward socialism? Jonah Goldberg says it is. Alabama Senator Richard Shelby says it is. Phyllis Schlafly says it is. Richard Viguerie says it is. The Republican National Committee says it is. We must be getting pretty close.

[…]

The hot-pink portion of this pie chart is the percentage of listed American business assets that have recently been nationalized by the American government (ie, General Motors). Obama’s version of socialism is so sneaky you can hardly see it!

(And there is some reason to think this actually overstates the portion of the corporate landscape that’s been nationalized, but more on that at the end of the post.*)

While the chart above would appear at first glance to be pretty dispositive of the issue (if the federal government owns so little, can we really be socialist?), it actually begs a huge question. If the segment of the economy effectively nationalized in the past several months is so vanishingly small, why is it necessary for taxpayers to fund trillions of dollars to save it? We’ll come back to that.

Next, Jon Henke observes:

NOTE: The fact is, American has always had a mixed economy, as do all modern, developed economies. The question is not one of category – capitalism or socialism? – but of degree.

[…]

Obama is not socialist. But he is more comfortable with centralizing economic power. As that centralization proceeds, the focus of public interest will shift from “how do we fix the immediate economic problems?” to “how do we fix the problems we created when we tried to fix that temporary problem?” That is when the pendulum can swing back towards decentralization and individual empowerment.

Jon takes a more organic view of the subject. That is, he posits the governing structure of the US as subject to the tolerance of the polity for centralized control of the economy. In his view, just because Obama “is more comfortable with centralizing economic power” that does not mean that we have become a socialist nation. Instead, we are merely experiencing a swing of the political pendulum towards socialism that will inevitably swing back towards the capitalism node. Left unsaid is how often that pendulum has swung away from socialism in the past 100+ years. More importantly, Jon’s assertions beg their own question — i.e. how “comfortable” must a politician and/or the populace be with centralized power before we can safely label it socialism?

In addition to the above, another line of argument is sure to be made (if it hasn’t been already) that we cannot possibly be a socialist country because private property has not been outlawed and the people as a whole do not own and control the means of production. Truly, this is the argument that Conor attempts to support with his graph (not that Conor necessarily agrees with that argument, just that he is holding up evidence that would tend to suggest socialism is not at hand). Essentially, although socialism comes in many forms, a primary ingredient is that the state (on behalf of the people) have dominance over the means of production instead of private concerns. The most extreme form, of course, is where all private property is abolished and the state decides what will be produced, by who, when and how much. Much milder versions such as social democracy exist today that, while they allow private property and much more freedom than, say, Stalinist North Korea, maintain a firm grip over the economy as a whole. Is there any doubt that Germany is a socialist country for example? The question then is, where does America fit when it this spectrum of socialist possibilities, if it fits at all?

At bottom, the problem with these sorts of arguments is almost always definitional. If I start arguing that communism never works and use the Soviet Union as an example, someone is sure to pipe up “that wasn’t real communism” followed by a neat explanation how Lenin and Stalin perverted what the true communists wanted in order to seize power for their own means. In order to avoid that annoyance, let’s at least agree on the dictionary definition of socialism:

An economic system in which the production and distribution of goods are [owned and] controlled substantially by the government rather than by private enterprise, and in which cooperation rather than competition guides economic activity. There are many varieties of socialism. Some socialists tolerate capitalism, as long as the government maintains the dominant influence over the economy; others insist on an abolition of private enterprise. All communists are socialists, but not all socialists are communists.

The definition above comes from the The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition, and I think sums up the idea nicely. The one thing missing is the word “ownership” which, I expect, someone will insist upon, so I’ve inserted the words “owned and” into the definition. As luck would have it, this is the very concept that I think is missed by almost everyone who discusses whether or not we are a socialist country.

Specifically, what is the difference between ownership and control? Looking again to the dictionary, here is a good legal definition of “ownership”:

“one’s exclusive right of possessing, enjoying, and disposing of a thing.” 72 So. 891. The term has been given a wide range of meanings, but is often said to comprehend both the concept of possession and, further, that of title and thus to be broader than either. See 139 N.W. 101. See fee simple.

The primary concept behind ownership is that of exclusivity, such that if I own real property, for example, I can by right exclude all others. Without the ability to exclude, my “ownership” is something less than complete and the use, enjoyment and alienation (a fancy word for selling, trading or giving away) of property is limited.

To illustrate the idea, consider that you own a piece of real property (Blackacre) which is rich with gold and silver mines, oil, and an abundance of flora and fauna. In short, it is a little slice of heaven and it is all yours. Or at least it would be if were not for the fact that the flora are mostly designated as protected, the fauna are all listed as endangered, and the mineral deposits are tightly regulated, all to the extent that you cannot make any real use of your land except to look at it from a neighbor’s yard in humble admiration for its splendor. Not only are you prevented from drilling or mining on your property, you cannot even build a house or structure of any kind because that might disturb the protected species. The rules and regulations governing Blackacre are so ominous, that you can’t even sell it without first offering it to the government for a price it will set in its own arbitrary discretion. Furthermore, just on the other side of Blackacre is the Pacific Ocean fronted by a lovely beach, to which the law declares access must be allowed for the public, and there is nothing you can do to prevent them from traipsing across your wonderland. In short, you may own Blackacre in title, but you have very little, if any, control.

Of course, at least here in America, the laws and regulations aren’t quite that strict. And the vast majority of people would agree to at least some controls over private property to prevent the owners from harming other property or people (e.g. pollution, building setbacks to prevent fire, etc.)[ed. – let’s ignore Coasean bargaining for now, shall we?]. At some point, however, those restrictions on the owner’s use become so burdensome as to effectively deprive the owner of any real control. The same can be said for the ownership of capital, which can be anything from money to a large factory for building tractors. When the government sets up enough rules and regulations affecting the use and enjoyment of that capital, the fact that ownership is nominally in private hands does not somehow render that government as something other than socialist.

Now, getting back to our definition of socialism, which is more important, “ownership” or “control”? To my mind, this isn’t even a close call. Without control, ownership is next to meaningless. Therefore, if the state has the ability to control the means of production (a.k.a. capital), whether directly through ownership, or indirectly through law and regulation, I contend that such state should be deemed socialist.

Think of a scale that measures the owner’s rights in her own property and how, with each new government missive, that ownership indication drops a little more. Where the state’s intervention becomes intolerable will be different for each person, but from a definitional standpoint, that intervention represents socialism. When the scale registers a significant enough intervention into the owner’s rights, socialism becomes the prevalent factor in the control of property, and private, capitalist “ownership” is either dulled or altogether neutered. Again, without the ability to control that capital, ownership is a meaningless concept that should be left out of the conversation.

Accordingly, when Conor suggests that we are not a socialist nation because the government only owns an almost immeasurable portion of the corporate assets of this country, I suggest that he use a new measurement. Specifically, one that measures the amount of control that “owners” have over their property/capital/etc. That graph would look significantly different in my estimation.

Furthermore, when Jon states that Obama is not a socialist, he’s just comfortable with centralizing economic power, I ask that he consider what ways centralizing power (i.e. control over the means of production) is not socialist, and that he provide a few examples for clarification. Also, if the pendulum is going to swing back towards more decentralization (i.e. less control over capital), how far back would it have to go before most people could be reasonably certain that we are not, in fact, a socialist nation? How far back does he think it would have to go, or is his contention that the pendulum simply hasn’t swung into socialist territory? In considering those questions, I’d ask that the concept of control, rather than titular ownership, be the dominant factor in deciding where the state stands vis-à-vis socialism.

As I see it, we’ve been living with socialism in this country for a very long time. The only difference has been one of degree and magnitude. Its pervasiveness has ebbed and flowed over the decades, but American’s tolerance for it has grown substantially, even if many of us don’t like to call the governance we desire “socialism.” Unfortunately, that’s exactly what it is, and it’s only going to become more prevalent and intrusive. After all, why would anyone who is comfortable with centralizing economic power stop it? They’ll just call it something else and move on with asserting they’re control until one day you’ll be gazing longingly at Blackacre from the public beach, because that’s the only place where you can legally see it.

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39 Responses to Socialism In America

  • I didn’t say that Obama was “comfortable with centralizing economic power”.  I said he was “more comfortable”.  If Obama is a “socialist”, then so was President Bush.  And Reagan.  And pretty much every other President we’ve ever had.  Short of the anarcho-capitalists, everybody agrees to cede to government some measure of intervention in the economy.

    If there is a spectrum between “capitalist” and “socialist”, then Obama is marginally worse than many other politicians.  But this is not an “either/or” issue.   Obama is not a socialist or a capitalist.  Like all American politicians, he favors a mixed economy….which we have always had.    And, unless you think an anarcho-capitalist society is likely (I don’t), we always will have it.

    And hey, unless you support disbanding the military and funding it through voluntary individual fees, you support some of that collectivist government, too.

    I find the libertarian tendency to assume that the slippery slope always leads to fascism, communism, socialism or whatever worst case scenario relatively unhelpful and inconsistent with history.   Tyler Cowen (I believe) has made a good case that despite the growth of government, we’re much more free today than we ever have been.   It is important to guard the slippery slope, but I don’t think we’re quite as bad off as many libertarians often assume.

    • I didn’t say that Obama was “comfortable with centralizing economic power”.  I said he was “more comfortable”.

      I didn’t misquote you.  And why is that “more” means he’s not socialist, while the absence of the qualifier means he is?

      If Obama is a “socialist”, then so was President Bush.  And Reagan.  And pretty much every other President we’ve ever had.  Short of the anarcho-capitalists, everybody agrees to cede to government some measure of intervention in the economy.

      Did you read the post?  All you have to do is read the first paragraph to see my assertion that we’ve been living with socialism in this country for a long time.  As to Bush, I’ve been saying that he was basically a socialist for years (at times to your face) and that “compassionate conservatism” is just as much a statist ideal as the “Great Society.”  The only way I can see how Reagan was a socialist was in the war on (some) drugs, but other than that it seems to me he was the anomaly over the past century, not part of the general trend.

      If there is a spectrum between “capitalist” and “socialist”, then Obama is marginally worse than many other politicians.  But this is not an “either/or” issue.   Obama is not a socialist or a capitalist.  Like all American politicians, he favors a mixed economy….which we have always had.    And, unless you think an anarcho-capitalist society is likely (I don’t), we always will have it.

      Again, read the post.  In particular all that section where I talk about the measuring scale.  In addition, under your rubric, no one is a socialist or a capitalist unless they hold to the strictest and purest form of one or the other.  For example, the Chinese have both socialism and capitalism, so are they not socialists?  They seem to think they are despite the allowance of some market freedom.  You, however, seem to think they are not.

      And hey, unless you support disbanding the military and funding it through voluntary individual fees, you support some of that collectivist government, too.

      Good, God.  Read the freakin’ post, Jon.  Plus, how is supporting a military exclusively socialist?  It certainly isn’t under my calculation.

      I find the libertarian tendency to assume that the slippery slope always leads to fascism, communism, socialism or whatever worst case scenario relatively unhelpful and inconsistent with history.

      Yeah, that Hayek was such teh stupid.  What does this have to do with my post anyway?  I didn’t mention anything about a slippery slope or a worst case scenario.

      Tyler Cowen (I believe) has made a good case that despite the growth of government, we’re much more free today than we ever have been.

      Really?  Okay, give me a link or something.  I’m reasonably certain I can thoroughly debunk such a ridiculous claim.

      It is important to guard the slippery slope, but I don’t think we’re quite as bad off as many libertarians often assume.

      Fair enough.  Why don’t you go tell them instead of lecturing me.

    • “Short of the anarcho-capitalists, everybody agrees to cede to government some measure of intervention in the economy.”

      Since when is mere intervention in the economy the definition of socialism?  Socialism is government direction of the economy, the assumption of the function of the ownership of capital by displacing–dispossessing–the capital’s previous owners.  Obama’s certainly done that, and without even a circumspect nod to bankruptcy law.

      I’m not sure you can say the same about any previous President without giving examples which would tent to show your putative American socialism in fact predates the concept–an impossibility which give the lie to your claims.

      This is not a case of, move along, there’s nothing to see here.

      Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp

      • In regards to President George “I’ve abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system” Bush, I think the actions of his Treasury Secretary pretty much proves the point.

        • George Bush is no stellar example of  fiscal conservatism, and his oxymoronic statement which you have quoted is good evidence of that.

          Nevertheless, Obama’s efforts to prevent the repayment of what were is some cases forced loans, is a new wrinkle on a different plane, as is his blatant gift tot he unions–done contrary to customary bankruptcy law.

          Are you claiming its all part of a smooth continuum?  It isn’t.  Obama’s cranked the exponent of the slope to totalitarianism, where frankly Bush was quite restrained all in all.

          Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp

    • I disagree with your arguments Jon. You sound like the Fabian Socialists back in the beginning of the twentieth century trying to describe socialism to a doubtful public. “Well, whenever we build a road, whenever we fund a court, whenever we fund a post office, why that is simply socialism!  See, nothing to be afraid of.”

      Bullcrap. Socialism is not ANY government spending. Socialism is the systematic nationalization of industries or the nationalization of key companies combined with increasing high progressive taxes and huge government spending. Along with government concern with nearly all aspects of life.

      It is obvious, despite the graph, that we are moving towards more socialism. and It will be just like socialism in every other place, a complete disaster.

  • “All communists are socialists, but not all socialists are communists.” They are, however, all Democrats :-)

  • Essentially, although socialism comes in many forms, a primary ingredient is that the state (on behalf of the people) have dominance over the means of production instead of private concerns.

    If using classical definitions, this is fascism not socialism.  I think using that definition, your argument would make more sense.  Obama has shown little concern with the day to day minucia of “non-crucial” industry, yet every business related dictat issued from his administration has the thinly veiled government fist threatening “do it my way… or else!”

  • Building off of bains comment above, I think there is an important, yet subtle difference which is missing from the analysis.   It may not be the Cultural Literacy definition, because it is misused very regularly in our culture, but the more pure ‘economic’ distinction between socialism and fascism rests on the difference between the ownership (and therefore also control) of socialism as opposed the the non-ownership, but still control, of fascism.   And to be clear, fascism is a socio-economic way of organization, that is by definition totalitarian, but does not necessarily involve mass murder and ovens.   People like to think linearly between capitalism and socialism, but that misses the distinction between ownership and control of the fascism vs socialism.   I would argue that Conor is right…the US Government owns very little of America’s productive capacity.  We are not very socialist, and have not really been very socialist for a long time.  Arguably becoming relatively less socialist as our productive economy was growing diminishing the importance of the post office, Amtrack, TVA etc.  Michael is also right to point out that does not make us capitalist…the US government is heavily involved in controlling the private sector, including the land use example he used.   I would add that while socialism is new to the American auto industry, fascism is not…CAFE standards, Wagner Act work rules etc etc.  We are not and have not been slipping from capitalism to socialism, we have been slipping from capitalism to fascism.    The only thing that is a little different about this administration is that in addition to slipping more quickly to fascism, he has added some socialist slippage to the mix. 

    The thing that truly scares me is that the pendulum has not swung towards freedom and capitalism since the dawn of the 20th Century.   We have been sliding on that slippery slope for a long while, Republicans (Patriot Act) and Democrats (porkapalooza) each with their own variation, but always down hill. 

  • I suggest that he use a new measurement. Specifically, one that measures the amount of control that “owners” have over their property/capital/etc.

    Likewise, we need a new measurement of the percentage a wage earner income paid in taxes that includes the loss opportunity to government programs based on their income level (the invisible taxes).

  • To add another point…it is common to point out that China has moved from communism to capitalism.  Absolutely false.  China has switched from communism to fascism.  Just try to build a factory there to make something that the government does not want you to make. 

  • The thing that truly scares me is that the pendulum has not swung towards freedom and capitalism since the dawn of the 20th Century.

    What amazes me is the ignorance of the public, and in particular the left.  They lament that the free market has lead us to this economic downturn.  De-regularization has proven folly, and now we must bail out certain businesses too big to fail! Well excuse me, but just how did that business get that big.  It certainly wasn’t Adam Smith’s invisible hand – dollars to donuts it was government (local-state-federal) favoritism. E.g. how much do you think King County and the state of Washington remunerated Microsoft and Boeing to keep both in Seattle?

    • Microsoft and Boeing are, perhaps, a bit to esoteric.  Detriot and Michagan for years ignored structural problems within GM, Ford, Chrysler, and the UAW.  As long as the economy was ticking along, they could afford to do so.  But by continuing to provide lucrative incentives for the auto industry to remain centralized within Detriot, and centralized within failing corporate structures, the government/corporate/union affiliation was allowed, nay encouraged,  to putrify – myopic self aggrandizement and temporary political gain the primary culprit. 

      It is not free markets to blame, but nascent fascist state, those that we naively enable, that creates these dinosaurs that are too big to fail.

  • To Daedalus Mugged and bains:

    I don’t disagree with many of the distinctions y’all are making, and I’ve actually made the argument in the past that fascism is simply another version of socialism (or, at least, a derivation thereof).  For purposes of simplicity and congruence (not to mention brevity), however, I focused on the distinction between socialism and capitalism because it’s easier to deal with. 

    Overall, I think my primary point stands in that America is not really the capitalist country we imagine it to be and hasn’t been for over 100 years.  While it’s true that we are generally more capitalist than most any place else on Earth, that in and of itself does not make us capitalist.  I’d rather we all start facing the fact that we live in a socialist country and rationally decide how we want to deal with that.  There’s no way to honestly decide how much socialism we’re prepared to accept as a country if we’re alternately pretending that (a) we are really a capitalist one, and (b) marginal moves away from (some) socialist positions are sufficient to maintain our faux capitalism.

    • “Overall, I think my primary point stands in that America is not really the capitalist country we imagine it to be and hasn’t been for over 100 years.”

      Actually it pretty much was up until Wilson’s wartime administration.  When did that get cranked up?  93 years ago, under 100 in any case.  And wartime powers did not become peacetime ones until FDR, 80 or so decades ago.

      That’s a long time, but not over a 100 years.  There were a few signs of the current aconstitutional regime such as the end of true juries and anti-trust laws, and perhaps the Bank of the United States, and the Sedition acts, but you don’t see an unbroken trend until Wilson.

      Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp

  • Well, the way you’ve defined socialism makes it meaningless.  We’re all socialist and we always will be.  Yet, in political science that isn’t how socialism is understood and defined.  And if Reagan was a socialist too, then where is the sting in the label?  Given that the term “socialist” no longer has the kind of impact it did during the Cold War (it’s not seen as being so bad now — people just shrug), further eroding the definition means it packs no sting.  “Socialist?  OK, yeah, whatever…” will be the response.

    Look, the Republican party has to pin its future not on some ideological battle for purity against socialism, but on practical, small government, decentralization, and rejection of government regulations that have profoundly negative effects on both the economy and average folk, even if they seem to make sense given some political rationale.    That can be done in a positive way, avoiding labels like ‘socialism’ and focusing on pragmatic issues.

    So when you make a claim that “America is socialist” and define it in this way, then you’re not really attacking the left; for most of the public, it sounds like “socialism isn’t so bad, we’ve been doing it for a long time.”

    • I can’t believe I’m even responding to your nonsense, but I didn’t define socialism, I gave the dictionary definition of it.  Furthermore, I’m not trying to “sting” anyone nor skewer the left.  I’ve simply stated a case that America is much fonder of, and mired in, socialism than most seem willing to admit.

      Y’know, and this goes for every commenter, if you’re not going to read the post then don’t waste your time commenting.

      • God help me, I actually agree with Erb on this one. I don’t care where the definition came from, it’s goofy.  As Erb said (gag!), such a broad definition renders the word effectively useless.

        I think a more accurate description of the situation is to compare it to what James Burnham called “The Managerial Revolution”. Burnham’s idea is that the managers of corporations are taking control, and effectively the ownership, of corporations for their own benefit. Hence the obscenely large compensation packages and perks in return for mediocre performance. Now control is being transferred to politicians via regulations, laws, etc.  Instead of a ‘military-industrial complex’ we are getting a politico-managerial complex. Where do politicians and political appointees go when they are out of office? And where are these folks coming from? A revolving door.

        • “I think a more accurate description of the situation is to compare it to what James Burnham called “The Managerial Revolution”. Burnham’s idea is that the managers of corporations are taking control, and effectively the ownership, of corporations for their own benefit.”

          While this is certainly true, that relationship (Owner to manager) is still VOLUNTARY, Arms-Length, and does not involve government. As such, it is completely irrelevant to this discussion.

          • There are two possibilities: a) this is a long term structural change which would create a government-industrial complex; or b) this is short term crisis management that will eventually return to private ownership.  I believe it is “b.”  I suspect that’s because I do not share the views many of you have that Obama is trying to expand government control out of ideological grounds.  I may be wrong.    But even in Europe they’ve moved away from the folly of having government run  businesses.  I don’t think Obama and his people are stupid enough to think this can work for anything more than short term crisis management.

        • I don’t care where the definition came from, it’s goofy.  As Erb said (gag!), such a broad definition renders the word effectively useless.

          I agree.
          Accord to such a broad definition, if the government doesn’t allow one to put an oil derrick in one’s backyard, then it’s a socialist government.

          Yeah, the good ol’ Reagan days.  When he allowed everyone to have a derrick, quarry, refinery, or something.  Just no drugs…

          I guess – using this interpretation – the good news is, that this country was/is, before/during/after a socialist country, and the election of Obama or McCain, would not have made a difference.

          Good, then.  I feel better now.

          Cheers.

  • Everyone is pussyfooting around, Obama is a Communist and he will never give up all the businesses he has, and will, nationalize. Not until they are “pried from his cold dead hands.” The Democrats are the Communist party of America and the Republicans are the Socialist’s party of America, if you want to play semantics with distinctions.  There simply is no party that represents capitalism that has any standing whatsoever. The scariest thing about Obama is his speech, I, don’t want to run GM, I, am warning the people on Wall Street, I…I…& I! He’s shitting in everyone’s front yard and everybody is standing around discussing what he had for dinner.

    What’s worse than a Marxist, a Marxist dictator that makes up history as he goes and will rip your heart out just to give it to someone who doesn’t have one? 
     

     

     

  • For purposes of simplicity and congruence (not to mention brevity), however, I focused on the distinction between socialism and capitalism because it’s easier to deal with.

    I understand, but disagree.  It is long germinating fascism that we are facing.  The problem with using that term is the left has hijacked the definition to mean “those people who oppose my enlightened proscription for utopia [Nazi,  Homophobes, Post-birth Baby Killers, Non-Minority Racists, etc].”  But fascism, and not socialism, is what Obama’s agenda is all about – protecting ourselves from ourselves because he [Obama] and all his enlightened (vanguard) advisors know better than us what is best for us.  Who cares if we buy roses or carnations for a friend, just as long as we are forced to drive a Prius to present them.

  • I understand, but disagree.  It is long germinating fascism that we are facing.

    I understand where you’re coming from, bains, and I’m not disagreeing.  At this stage of the argument, however, it seems to me that it’s simply easier to discuss “mushrooms” rather than porcini, shitake or chanterelle.

    • I care, Michael, because for the past 7 years we have been accosted by idiots who claimed GWBush was a fascist in the popular leftist definition. 

      Obama is a fascist in the traditional sense  (look to his upbringing in the UCC approved liberation theology) – and so many snot-nosed apologists (yes you Erb) embrace the real fascist while pretending that manufactured (and MSM approved) outrages are the bigger threats.   Yeah, there are threats indeed, threats that expose the intellectual vacuity of doctrinare leftist (fascist) thought.

      Portabello – Lefties think it replaces burgers…

      • For some reason, bains, I thought you were part of the lengthy conversation we had about this over at ASHC.   Looking back through the comments though, I realize I was mistaken.  If you read through all that rigmarole, however, I think you’ll see that I get what you’re on about.  To wit, here’s Hayek on the connection between socialism and fascism:

        It is a common mistake to regard National Socialism as a mere revolt against reason, an irrational movement without intellectual background. If that were so, the movement would be much less dangerous than it is. But nothing could be further from the truth or more misleading. The doctrines of National Socialism are the culmination of a long evolution of thought, a process in which thinkers who have had great influence far beyond the confines of Germany have taken part. Whatever one may think of the premises from which they started, it cannot be denied that the men who produced the new doctrines were powerful writers who left the impress of their ideas on the whole of European thought. Their system was developed with ruthless consistency. Once one accepts the premises from which it starts, there is no escape from its logic. It is simply collectivism freed from all traces of an individualist tradition which might hamper its realization.

        […]

        What, then, caused these views held by a reactionary minority finally to gain the support of the great majority of Germans and practically the whole of Germany’s youth? It was not merely the defeat, the suffering, and the wave of nationalism which led to their success. Still less was the cause, as so many people wish to believe, a capitalist reaction against the advance of socialism. On the contrary, the support which brought these ideas to power came precisely from the socialist camp. It was certainly not through the bourgeoisie, but rather through the absence of a strong bourgeoisie, that they were helped to power.

        … the socialists of the Left approached more and more to those of the Right. It was the union of the anticapitalist forces of the Right and of the Left, the fusion of radical and conservative socialism, which drove out from Germany everything that was liberal.

        The connection between socialism and nationalism in Germany was close from the beginning. It is significant that the most important ancestors of National Socialism (Fichte, Rodbertus, and Lassalle) are at the same time acknowledged fathers of socialism. . . From 1914 onward there arose from the ranks of Marxist socialism one teacher after another who led, not the conservatives and reactionaries, but the hard-working laborer and idealist youth into the National Socialist fold. It was only thereafter that the tide of nationalist socialism attained major importance and rapidly grew into the Hitlerian doctrine.

  • I think that, if you are going to use “control” as the measure — and I agree that that is an appropriate measure — you should be using the concept of FASCISM rather than SOCIALISM.

  • Hey MW, have you consider that you’re talking about fascism, not socialism?    ;D

  • FWIW, the argument over whether we are slouching toward socialism, communism, or facism misses the mark.  What we’re REALLY talking about is the erosion of two of the unalienable rights: liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Whether it’s the government telling you that you must wear a helmet if you ride a motorcycle or the government telling you how much you may pay the CEO of your corporation, the cause is still the same: the government is taking away your liberty to pursue happiness in your own way.

    Lest it be thought that I’m advocating anarchy, let me say that I recognize the need for laws and a strong government to enforce them.  However, when the needs of “society” consistently trump the rights of the individual, we’ve got a serious problem.  When the citizen is seen not as the master of his government but as a revenue source to be exploited, we’ve got a serious problem.  Arguing over whether to call it “socialism” or “facism” or “antidisestablishmentarianism” gets us bogged down and diverts attention from the two central questions:

     Are we losing our liberty and, if so, how do we stop this process before it’s too late?

    As for the chart from Conor Clarke, some may find relief in it: “Such a tiny fraction of our economy is owned by the government that there’s clearly nothing to worry about!” I, however, am horrified: where in the Constitution is there ANY right for Uncle Sugar to take over a private corporation???  It’s like telling a woman pinned by a rapist that, “He’s only got one button of your blouse open.  Why worry?”

    • What we’re REALLY talking about is the erosion of two of the unalienable rights: liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

      It may not be directly related, but much of the country has already accepted the erosion of the third unalienable right. The Declaration of Independence can be used as an argument to support three unalienable rights, but not one or two.

  • From skimming the post and the comments it reminds me of the argument of how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. 

    docjim505’s comment was a breath of fresh air at the end.  I don’t care what you label someone.  Look to their actions.  Obama is way down any slope towards collectivism versus a Reagan.  Give me  a system based on our Constitution’s format for very limited government and you can call it any dang thing you want.

  • Michael,
      I appreciate that the difference is a subtle one, but (like Jeff Goldstein) I believe it is important for words to have meaning.   If you want to simplify socialism and fascism into one, when Conor claims we are not socialist, because the governement does not own a lot of America’s productive assets, than you have to make the (technically false) case that socialism includes control without ownership.  And you have to make that case firmly and compellingly.  And it is a hard case to make…because it does miss an important distinction.  It puts you on your back foot and defensive about your technically incorrect definition. 

    I believe the better approach would be to confront someone like Conor and tell them that they are arguing that we are more fascist than socialist, agree on the point.  If he (Conor) wants to make the case that all of the government control is fascist not socialist, let him.  Make that case that we are clearly not laissez faire capitalist (or that liberty and freedom is slipping away to a fascist state as opposed to the socialist state) and we are slipping into statism, and whether its is the socialist vs fascist versions is of minor import to those loosing their freedom and rights. 

    The point is that we are slipping.  And he can honestly and fairly say we are not very socialist.  It is likely a poor arguement to make the case we are.

  • Statism (or etatism) is a term that may refer to either or both of the following:

    A major government role in the direction of the economy, both directly through state-owned enterprises and indirectly through the central planning of the overall economy.[1][2]
    A political viewpoint “that sovereignty is vested not in the people but in the national state, and that all individuals and associations exist only to enhance the power, the prestige, and the well-being of the state. The fascist concept of statism repudiates individualism and exalts the nation as an organic body headed by the Supreme Leader and nurtured by unity, force, and discipline.”[3]

  • This country’s economy is failing because of increasing socialism! Not capitalism! Swell analysis, Mike. Will a capitalist revolution be necessary to remedy this problem? I think so. =P

  • Maybe I missed it, but what was the answer to the question that “if the segment of the economy effectively nationalized in the past several months is so vanishingly small, why is it necessary for taxpayers to fund trillions of dollars to save it?”

  • Henke: “I find the libertarian tendency to assume that the slippery slope always leads to fascism, communism, socialism or whatever worst case scenario relatively unhelpful and inconsistent with history.”

    That’s just astounding, although it’s par for the course with him.  A rational person in touch with the facts can point directly at over two hundred years of American history which is not “assume[d]” and which points in a straight line to the very pleasant scene that we enjoy today.

    I keep asking: How serious does it have to get before people like this get serious?

  • I am astonished by this discussion.
    The bloody Marxists are saying Obama has restarted socialism in America.
    In that pie chart up there, I don’t see any notation of the unfunded Ponzi scheme retirement insurance plan or the massive senior medical insurance plan. Nor the jump in the the federal portion of GDP.

    Remember that little humble old community public schools thing? Well, now its a public employee industry, bankrupting states and smothering payers of property taxes. I’m on the hook for no less than $50 grand over the next ten years just for that.

    Henke: you are three-quarters on your way to Erbdom. Good luck with it. I think you deserve everything it brings you.

    Erb: you are an idiot. You know what I did to you over your weasling about the definitions of socialism. If I thought anyone cared about you anymore, I’d go find that and lay it down here.

    We’ve got to be well over 50% of national income directed by government now. Friedman had it around 45% years ago.

    Michael: this is no place for the dictionary. There’s a move being made, or about to be made, on the health care sector of the economy.

    The thing in the room is power. Go to that link I left above and see what the Marxist-trained historian Martin Sklar is saying about what Obama is doing.